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Will a fourth election in under two years solve Israel’s political crisis?

January 25, 2021 at 10:38 am

A man casts his vote during the Israeli general elections in Tel Aviv on 9 April 2019 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Anadolu Agency]

On 22 December, the Knesset — Israel’s parliament — dissolved itself after failing pass a state budget, triggering yet another General Election. The country has been in political chaos for years, and now faces its fourth election in less than two years on 23 March.

The current government was formed after months of political uncertainty and bitter toing and froing to put together a viable coalition. In April last year, Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud, took the reins of power again, with the head of the Blue and White bloc, former General Benny Gantz, at the Ministry of Defence and Alternate Prime Minister.

Gantz had campaigned against Netanyahu and sought to oust him over the corruption charges that the Prime Minister faces. He agreed to put this aside under the pretext of the need for a government able to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. This threatened the dissolution of the Blue and White bloc because of Gantz’s agreement to ally with his opponent whom he had pushed to expel from politics altogether, not to become prime minister again.

Will a fourth election in less than two years solve Israel’s political crisis and bring political stability? I don’t think so, not least because of the increasing fragmentation among the politicians leading to splinter groups and parties springing up on both the right and left.

Yossi Verter started his analysis for Haaretz early this month by ridiculing the huge number of Israeli parties. “New political parties are popping up day by day in wholesale quantities,” he wrote. “Some of them are significant, some of them are negligible and others are downright ridiculous. It is not reasonable that Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas will have to hire carpenters to increase the size of the trays of voting slips with the names of parties on them at the polling places.”

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Many of these parties will keep tens of thousands of votes from having any influence in the Knesset because they will be below the elusive 3.25 per cent of votes required to pass the electoral threshold and elect MKs. Daily polls show that only Yesh Atid is safe among the centrist parties and Meretz on the Left, while Blue and White and The Israelis, founded by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, are hovering around the threshold.

The Labor and other left-wing parties are below it, with very little chance of getting a single seat in parliament. Even the Democratic Party formed as an anti-Netanyahu protest is below the threshold according to the polls. Gantz has called on all the centre and left parties to unite under Yair Lapid, the chairman of Yesh Atid, but none has yet agreed to do so; a merger seems unlikely.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate PM and Defence Minister Benny Gantz attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on 7 June 2020. [MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benny Gantz attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on 7 June 2020 [MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images]

It’s a similar story with the right wing. Key Likud leaders have defected, such as Gideon Sa’ar who has formed the New Hope party and is planning to challenge Netanyahu in the March election. The head of the so-called settlement Yesha Council and Jordan Valley Regional Council, David Elhayani, has also left the party and joined Sa’ar. He has attacked the Likud leader.

“Netanyahu has rejected the values of the Likud and the principled positions held by some of its more storied members, such as former Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir,” explained Elhayani. He failed to mention that Begin and Shamir headed terrorist groups in the 1940s and were wanted by the British Mandate authorities.

New Hope is an extreme right-wing party, but there are some senior Likud members who want neither Netanyahu nor the annexation of the occupied West Bank and Jordan Valley. They might establish a new party.

The polls do not suggest any possibility of a left-wing government in Israel because such parties are unable to put together a viable bloc in the Knesset. Instead of merging, they are splintering and are more divided than ever.

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On the right, similar splits are happening. Right-wing parties are expected to win fewer than the 61 seats needed to form a government. “The poll leaves the Likud-religious alliance way short of 61 seats, even if they were to be joined by Naftali Bennett, who has not ruled out sitting with Netanyahu,” reported i24 News.

If the large parties cannot form a government, how can small parties do it? The widening divisions and sub-divisions among the Israeli parties ushers in an even worse situation. Israeli journalists and analysts believe that there will be no clear government after the March election. Most cannot see any viable solution for the political crisis crippling Israel.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.